Life On Mars,
The Golden Fleece
Neanderthals Reconstructed - Not Human Ancestors!

LONDON August 1, 2001 (Reuters) - Computer graphics of Neanderthals based on ancient fossils show they were very different from early humans and did not mix with them, Swiss scientists said Wednesday.

The virtual reality images of reconstructed Neanderthal skulls have distinctive features established very early in childhood which did not develop gradually through life, suggesting they coexisted but did not breed with each other.

"This is a strong argument for early separation on the species level, which means they had isolated populations. There might have been some accidental inbreeding but certainly not a big exchange of genes,'' said Christoph Zollikofer, a neurobiologist at the University of Zurich.

Zollikofer and Marcia Ponce de Leon, computer scientist and anthropologist at the university, created virtual reality models of Neanderthal skulls from 16 fossils of the creatures who lived in Europe, North Africa and Asia between 125,000 and 40,000 years ago.

They wanted to compare their development from childhood to that of early and modern humans.

They found that the distinctive features of the Neanderthal skull and face were there by the age of two years.

"We wanted to find out the basic development in Neanderthals in comparison to humans. It was a surprise to find how homogeneous these species behaved during development,'' Zollikofer added in a telephone interview.

The research, reported in the science journal Nature, supports earlier genetic evidence showing Neanderthals are too distant genetically to have been an ancestor of modern humans.

"We think that together with the genetic data ... it is quite reasonable to think that these are really two different species separated at least half a million years ago,'' said Zollikofer.

To construct the virtual reality images the scientists used computer tomography of the Neanderthal fossils to get three dimensional data and customized computer software to create the images.

"We now have a dynamic approach to the morphology (the study of forms). We can say something about how an extinct species developed from birth to adulthood,'' Zollikofer said.

Neanderthals differ from anatomically modern Homo sapiens in a suite of cranial features:

1.  A low but elongated and broadened braincase
2.  Characteristic cranial suprastructures such as a supraorbital torus, a small mastoid process, a large juxtamastoid eminence, and a suprainiac fossa
3.  A large face with rounded orbits, an wide nasal aperture, an inflated paranasal region and an anteroposteriorly slanting infraorbital region
4.  A mandible with a receding chin region and a retromolar space in adult individuals

On The Web:
Computer-assisted Paleoanthropology at the University of Zurich -

All images copyright M Ponce de León and Ch Zollikofer, MultiMedia Lab, University of Zurich.

Police Find 500 Skeletons in House
CALCUTTA July 30, 2001 (Reuters) - Police in the eastern Indian city of Calcutta have found about 500 human skulls and skeletons in a house after responding to a complaint about a foul smell coming from the building.

"We have sealed the building after the Calcutta Municipal Corporation lodged a complaint with us yesterday," Prabir Kumar Saha, the police officer investigating the case, told Reuters on Friday.

"Investigations are still at an early stage and a clearer picture on what these (skulls and skeletons) were being used for will emerge soon," he added.

Javed Khan, the senior official whose complaint prompted Thursday's raid on the house, said it was possible the skulls and skeletons were being used for Tantric practices.

Tantric priests believe human bones are an essential part of their rites in order to attain "siddhi" (salvation). Tantric rites, which are as old as Vedic practices, were adopted by the later Buddhists and spread to countries like Tibet.

In June, police found 86 human skulls at a bus stand in Siliguri city, some 600 km (375 miles) north of Calcutta.
Robert Kennedy Released from Vieques Prison

Associated Press

VIEQUES Puerto Rico August 1, 2001 (AP) - Environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was released from prison Wednesday after completing a 30-day sentence for trespassing on U.S. Navy lands on Vieques. He immediately returned to the island to support protesters planning an invasion of the Navy bombing range here.

Kennedy, who brought his 7-year-old son Connor to Vieques, was accompanied by New York labor leader Dennis Rivera, who also served a 30-day sentence for trespassing on Navy land in a bid to stop the last round of exercises in late April and early May.

Earlier Wednesday, the two emerged from a federal detention center in a San Juan suburb, on the main island of Puerto Rico, flashing peace signs echoing the "Peace for Vieques" slogan. Kennedy had his arm around his son, who held a little red flag that read "Paz," or peace.

The Navy plans to resume exercises on Vieques on Thursday, ignoring the results of a nonbinding referendum this weekend in which 68 percent of voters chose an immediate end to the bombing on the island of 9,400 people.

"I'm disappointed that they decided to go ahead with the exercise when they should respect the will of the people of Vieques," Kennedy said shortly after his arrival. "It is an exercise in bullying."

"We are going to continue putting on the pressure," promised Rivera, a Puerto Rican who heads New York City's 210,000-member health care union. "If the president doesn't order an end to the bombing, people will perceive him as a bully of a community that has helped so much in national defense."

Thirty percent supported the Navy remaining indefinitely and resuming bombing with live munitions - a protest vote against the alleged anti-American policies of Gov. Sila Calderon, who called the referendum.

Only 1.7 percent of Vieques voters in Sunday's referendum backed President Bush's plan for the Navy to withdraw in 2003 and continue exercises with dummy bombs until then.

Years of resentment over the Navy's appropriation of two-thirds of the 18-mile-long Vieques island in 1940 and the following decades of exercises exploded in anger and protests when two 500-pound bombs dropped off target on the range and killed a civilian guard in 1999.

Protesters occupied the range for a year before federal marshals forcibly removed them.

The protesters have continued a "civil disobedience" campaign of breaking into Navy land to try to stop bombing runs. Hundreds have been arrested and convicted. The cause has drawn celebrities including New York civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton, who is serving a 90-day sentence in New York City.

Protesters say the bombing has fouled the environment and damaged the health of islanders, charges the Navy strongly denies.

Kennedy and Rivera plan to return to New York on Wednesday night, spokeswoman Wilda Rodriguez said. Neither plans to trespass again.

Last week, Kennedy's wife Mary decided to name their newborn son Aidan Caohman Vieques Kennedy. He was born while his father was in prison.

Navy Begins Fresh Round of Bombing

VIEQUES Puerto Rico August 2, 2001 (AP) -- Battleships took their positions for a fresh round of U.S. Navy exercises on Thursday despite pleas from politicians and residents to stop using the outlying island of Vieques as a target.

Environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who served 30 days in prison for trespassing on federal land during an attempt to stop the Navy exercises in April and May, said he was embarrassed by the Navy's actions.

Kennedy, whose father and uncle -- President John F. Kennedy -- served in the Navy during World War II, was freed Wednesday from a federal prison outside of San Juan, Puerto Rico. He immediately flew to Vieques.

"I grew up with the Navy and it's been painful for me to oppose a service that was really an icon of my childhood,'' said Kennedy. "But in this case, what the Navy is doing here is wrong, and it's arrogant and it's bullying and it's the worst face of America.''

The exercises, which could last until Aug. 10, are to include ship-to-shore maneuvers, air-to-ground shelling and amphibious landings.

Kennedy and New York labor leader Dennis Rivera, who also served a 30-day sentence for trespassing, encouraged protesters to do what they could to stop the bombing and exercises.

"The experience was a good one, I would encourage other people to try it as well, as many as possible,'' Kennedy said, speaking partly in the Spanish that he said he learned in the San Juan prison.

Last week, nearly 70 percent of Vieques residents voted in a nonbinding referendum for an immediate end to the bombing. The firing range is 3 to 4 miles from the inhabited areas.

"We will keep mobilizing the forces of peace,'' said Rivera, a Puerto Rican who heads New York's 210,000 member health care union.

Robert Rabin, an anti-Navy protest leader, said their resources had been drained by the referendum, but promised more civil disobedience.

"This time the acts of civil disobedience will be carried out with a firm base of support among the people of Vieques,'' he said.

Thirty percent of Vieques voters supported the Navy remaining indefinitely and resuming bombing with live munitions -- a protest vote against the alleged anti-American policies of the U.S. territory's Gov. Sila Calderon, who called for the referendum.

Only 1.7 percent of Vieques voters in Sunday's referendum backed President Bush's plan for the Navy to withdraw in 2003 and continue exercises with dummy bombs. Vieques has 9,100 residents.

"We're not here to do anything other than to be a good neighbor and train our sailors and marines, and we try to do that with as little impact on the local community as possible,'' said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Katherine Goode.

Years of resentment over the Navy's appropriation of two-thirds of the 18-mile-long island in 1941 and decades of bombing exploded in anger and protests when two 500-pound bombs dropped off target killed a civilian guard on the range in 1999.

Residents say the exercises have led to increased health problems on the island, a claim the Navy denies.

House Committee Backs Vieques and Denies Abortion Aid
WASHINGTON August 2, 2001 (AP) -- The House Armed Services Committee approved a $343 billion defense budget that includes a directive to the Navy that training should continue on a Puerto Rican island until an equal or better site becomes available.

President Bush has ordered the Navy to pull out of Vieques by May 2003, without any conditions on a replacement site.

Under the House bill, the alternative site must allow simultaneous large-scale tactical air strikes, naval surface fire support and artillery and amphibious landing operations. Such realistic combat-style training was conducted at Vieques before a civilian working for the Navy was killed by an errant bomb in April 1999.

The Navy also cannot close the Vieques range until top Defense officials certify that such an alternative is immediately available, according to the provision passed during Wednesday's marathon committee meeting that began at 10 a.m. and lasted past 11 p.m.

The Republicans also maintained a missile defense budget of $8.16 billion, still $135 million less than Bush had requested, by voting down a Democratic alternative. The Democrats wanted to divert nearly $1 billion from the missile shield money for uses including two aerial tankers for the Marine Corps, two transport planes for the Air Force, 11 Black Hawk helicopters for the Navy and ship depot maintenance.

The $343 billion covers the Defense Department and the defense work of the Energy Department. The committee sent the bill to the full House by a vote of 58-1, with only Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., voting against it.

In other areas, the committee voted to delay cuts in the B-1 bomber force, rejected a bid to allow abortion on demand at military medical facilities and discussed base-closing proposals but did not vote on any.

As for Vieques, the panel also recommended canceling a November referendum, which Congress authorized last year, that would give Puerto Ricans a say in how long Navy bombing should continue. The vote would allow islanders to choose either the Bush plan and or having the Navy remain indefinitely, with live bombing resumed.

Bush announced in June that he would pull the Navy off the island in 2003. Government officials have said the Pentagon will probably need the full two years to make the transition out.

In a nonbinding referendum Sunday in Vieques, 68 percent of voters supported an end to the bombing and the Navy's immediate withdrawal. Bush's spokesman said Monday the president was sticking to his plans.

The Vieques provision came from the committee chairman, Rep. Bob Stump, R-Ariz., and the lawmakers expressed their support by defeating, 35-20, an effort by Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, to delete it. Six Democrats joined 29 Republicans in voting it down. All 20 votes for the amendment came from Democrats.

"It would set a dangerous precedent if we're going to let 3,000 Americans tell the other 2 million Americans in uniform that we're not going to allow you to train here anymore,'' said Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., contended the referendum was a way to give a voice to Puerto Ricans, who lack full representation in the House.

The B-1 amendment, which passed 33-26, came from Reps. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Jim Ryun, R-Kan., whose states would lose bombers in the planned reduction from 93 to 60 planes. Idaho's Mountain Home Air Force Base also would lose its B-1s.

The fleet is to be consolidated at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota and Dyess Air Force Base in Texas.

The measure would require the Bush administration to complete a wide array of reports before it could spend money to retire, dismantle or transfer any of the bombers.

Abortions Denied

On abortion, the committee rejected by a 35-23 vote an amendment Sanchez offered to let women in uniform and dependents of soldiers and sailors pay for abortions at military facilities. She said the amendment was important to women stationed in countries that outlaw abortion or have rudimentary off-base health facilities.

Military medical facilities perform abortions only in cases of rape or incest or when the life of the mother is at risk.

Scorpion Queen Leaves Cage with Record

KUALA LUMPUR July 31, 2001 (Reuters) - A Malaysian woman set a record on Tuesday by sharing a glass cage with thousands of scorpions for a month, saying she never thought of giving up despite repeated stings.

Nor Malena Hassan, 24, was cheered by a huge crowd in Kota Baru, capital of northern Kelantan state, for persevering to stay in the 12-square-meter (130-sq-ft) enclosure despite being stung seven times.

"No problem, happy," she told Reuters by telephone when asked how she felt leaving her 2,700 roommates.

Nor Malena had lived with 2,000 of the arachnids for 19 days, then added 700 more to increase the challenge, which earned her a place in the Malaysian Book of Records.

Two weeks ago, Malaysian newspapers carried pictures of her apparently unconscious after suffering her latest sting.

But on Tuesday she said she never thought of giving up the attempt, during which she said she had to stay in the cage for 24 hours a day except for a 15-minute bathroom break.

Malaysians regularly undertake feats, both exotic and mundane, to get their names in the country's six-year-old record book.

Last weekend food vendors in Penang state set a record by arranging their stalls in a 1.7-km (one-mile) line and last year a woman made it into the book after spending 31 days living with 90 snakes.

Fireworks Fans to Converge on Wisconsin

APPLETON WI August 2, 2001 (AP) -- They're coming from as far away as Brazil, the Netherlands and China. They're coming to look up into the Wisconsin night sky and marvel.

Basically, they're coming to watch stuff blow up.

About 3,000 fireworks fans from around the world are expected to converge on eastern Wisconsin for what is being billed as the world's largest gathering of pyrotechnics enthusiasts.

At the Pyrotechnics Guild International convention, which starts Saturday and runs until Aug. 10, visitors will get a chance to swap secrets, learn new techniques and enjoy the buzz on booms.

"They're all here for one reason -- fireworks. It's art in the sky,'' said convention co-chair Larry Cornellier. "It's sort of the Fourth of July for fireworks people.''

One event features about $100,000 worth of 300-foot-long firecrackers to be lit in unison after a tribute to illusionist and Appleton native Harry Houdini.

In another event, some 3 million to 5 million firecrackers will be bundled together in an 80- to 100-foot package, lifted up in a crane and detonated.

While admission to seminars, setups and a trade show is restricted -- organizers, after all, must keep a close watch on all that firepower -- much of the fun will be visible beyond the display site at the Wisconsin International Raceway tracks in nearby Kaukauna.

The guild has rented 400 acres nearby so carloads of gawkers can glimpse the majesty. As many as 100,000 are expected to watch the nightly shows.

"This will be 20 times more impressive than anything you've ever seen before,'' said "Pyro Bob'' Cleveland, the other co-chair, and the man largely responsible for luring the annual event to Appleton.

Wisconsin, with nearly 300 members in the state's 32-year-old fireworks club, has the second-highest number of registered enthusiasts in the country, second only to Minnesota.

The convention, the biggest ever held in the area, is expected to bring in around $1 million, according to the Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau.

"They're staying a week at a time of year when our hotel business seems to be a little slower,'' said bureau services manager Chris Church, who helped lobby the guild to bring the event to Appleton.

But along with the blazing theatrics come logistical and safety headaches.

Participants had to secure dozens of local, county, state and federal permits for transporting and setting up the goods. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms also inspected the site.

Setting up is a major ordeal, too. As temperatures climbed to 97 degrees this week, crews dug 200-foot trenches around the track, carefully inserting solid iron tubes into the ground for competitions.

It will have taken 10 to 20 workers five days to set up Sunday's computerized musical show, said David Lavoie, of Peterborough, N.H.'s Pyromate.

"Setting up fireworks is probably the hardest work on this planet,'' Lavoie said. "But it's all worth it in the end.''

Cleveland, a 40-year fireworks veteran, agreed: "I like to see the look on little kids' faces as their eyes go like saucers.''

On the Net:

Pyrotechnics Guild International:

Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau:

Wisconsin Pyrotechnic Arts Guild: 

Teenager Attacked by Hippopotamus

KIEV Ukraine August 1, 2001 (AP) — A hippopotamus reportedly attacked an 18-year-old woman after she entered its cage and plunged into its pool at a zoo in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.

The woman, identified only as Yekaterina, ignored warning signs and dove into the pool with a female hippopotamus and its 6-year-old offspring, local newspapers reported Wednesday.

The hippo picked up the woman with its mouth and shook her by the waist before tossing her into the air, the papers said. Three zoo visitors then rescued the woman, the daily newspaper Fakty said.

The woman was hospitalized in serious condition with broken bones and a concussion.

Hippos are native to Africa. In the wild, they have attacked people on land and in the water, sometimes breaking boats with their powerful jaws.

Interior Dept Erased Indian E-Mail
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON July 30, 2001 (AP) — The Interior Department destroyed e-mails that may have dealt with mismanaged Indian land royalties, despite repeated court orders that the files be preserved, according to a court-appointed investigator.

The data was supposed to be retained at the request of attorneys representing hundreds of American Indians in a lawsuit alleging that the government mismanaged at least $10 billion in royalties collected since 1887 from the use of Indian lands.

But from June 1998, when the court first ordered the data tapes preserved, until November 2000, tapes at a number of field offices were routinely overwritten and the information on them destroyed, said Alan Balaran, a court-appointed special master. He issued his report Friday.

A report earlier this month from another court-appointed monitor said the government had failed to make any progress in reconstructing how much the Indian trust account holders are owed.

Dennis Gingold, the attorney representing the Indian plaintiffs, said the erasure of the e-mails is a serious case of misconduct.

"Destruction of evidence by the lawyers is as serious an ethical violation as you can make,'' said Gingold. "They're reporting to the court that it's being maintained, so they are perpetrating a fraud to the court and destroying documents.''

He said he would ask the judge to hold the Interior Department in contempt — the latest in a serious of such requests. If the Justice Department attorneys recommended erasing the tapes, knowingly violating a court order, they should be disbarred, Gingold said.

Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller declined to comment.

Interior Department spokeswoman Stephanie Hanna said that the department had told field offices dealing with trust fund issues not to recycle tapes.

"It's the opinion of the Interior Department that we have made every effort to retain documents and e-mails that are now or were in the past relevant,'' Hanna said.

The trust accounts were created to hold royalties from grazing, logging, mining and oil drilling on Indian land. The government holds the accounts in trust for Indian landholders.

From the start the accounts have been mismanaged, the government acknowledges, with shoddy record-keeping, money stolen or used for other federal programs or never collected.


On the Net:

Indian plaintiffs:
Primitive Life Forms on Mars

By Mike Martin
UPI Science Correspondent

SAN DIEGO CA July 30, 2001 (UPI) — An expert scientific panel on Sunday said there is convincing evidence that life does exist — or did exist at one time on Mars.

For the kickoff session of the International Symposium on Optical Science and Technology, scientists came from the United States, Russia, Portugal, England, France, Austria, Belgium and Puerto Rico to provide what a conference statement called "the strongest evidence to date for primitive life forms on Mars."

Their data come from ancient graphite in the Ukraine, Antarctic depths, extraterrestrial meteorites found on Earth, dust in the upper atmosphere, the Hubble Space Telescope and especially from Mars itself.

"Physicist Serge Pershin, from the Russian Academy of Sciences, has analyzed images from the Hubble Space Telescope spectroscopically and found evidence of chlorophyll on Mars," Spherix Corp. chief executive officer and conference leader Gilbert Levin told United Press International from Beltsville, Md. "Pershin has found large regions that look like a film on the planet surface."

Levin told UPI recent NASA statements disputing the presence of water on Mars are contradicted by evidence from Michael Hecht, of Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

"Hecht has evidence that melting pools of water are the best explanation for the presence of gullies on the planet surface, which we've seen in numerous images from the planet," Levin said. This Martian water, Levin said, would melt and freeze on a seasonal basis on a planet surface that has an unusual temperature dynamic.

"The atmosphere on Mars is really extraordinary," Levin said. "The Viking Explorer showed (that temperatures) a yard above the surface might be freezing, while the surface itself would be at room temperature. If you were standing there, your feet would be comfy, while your head would be frozen."

This vast difference in temperature from surface to air might explain why life on Mars would be primitive and confined to rocks and soil.

"Viking and Pathfinder images show dark, shiny surfaces on Mars rocks that resemble something they call rock varnish," Levin said. "As it was explained to me, rock varnish is a microbial precipitate of mineral oxides. That's something Barry DiGregorio, from the Cardiff Center for Astrobiology in Wales, will be addressing."

DiGregorio, Levin said, believes the dark shiny spots on Mars have been produced by living or extinct microbial communities because it protects microbes from the dangers of ultraviolet radiation on the fourth planet from the sun, where such protection would be crucial in a thin atmosphere.

Claims of life on Mars draw true believers and vocal skeptics — a dividing line that can fall along scientific disciplines.

"SPIE is considered a good meeting," American Chemical Society editor Alan Newman told UPI from Washington. "It's been my experience, however, that physicists tend to be much more optimistic about life on other planets than biologists."

"Different scientists can arrive at opposite opinions when critical evidence is lacking," said David Deamer, a professor in the department of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California, Santa Cruz. "Gil Levin and the SPIE group have taken a data set and arrived at an extraordinary opinion that microbial life now exists on the Martian surface. Well, maybe so, but as Carl Sagan warned long ago, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence to be convincing."

Levin directed the so-called "labeled release experiment" on the Mars Viking mission in 1976. "A nutrient laced with radioactive carbon-14 — they call that labeling — was applied to the Martian soil," Levin said. "The space just above the soil was monitored. If carbon-14 gas was released into the air, we knew something on the ground was consuming the nutrient, just like if you ate radioactive carbon-14 glucose and respired radioactive carbon dioxide."

Carbon-14 gas was detected just above the Martian surface, which Levin called convincing proof of life. Subsequent tests on similar samples by other instruments failed to confirm the finding, however.

"Those other instruments had detection limits of 10 million microorganisms per gram; our test could detect just 10," Levin said. "We are just now finding this out, through the work by Dr. David Warmflash at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston."

All of this evidence would seem to add up to a convincing argument, at least according to Levin and the scientists in the Mars pro-life camp.

But not according to Deamer.

"The majority of the scientific jury are not convinced by the evidence and can think of less extraordinary explanations for the results," Deamer said. He said the most convincing counter argument for him is a comparison to the Antarctic high deserts, a relatively mild version of the Mars surface, with very dry, low temperatures and no liquid water present. Even though life on Earth has had more than 3 billion years to learn to live under such conditions, he said, no living organism goes through its life cycle in the Antarctic deserts.

"Why should we think that life can survive on Mars under much harsher conditions?" Deamer asked.

Deamer was quick to point out his pessimistic speculations involve the Martian surface.

"As a biologist and biophysicist, I would think that microbial life could easily survive in sub-surface Martian environments," he said. "(There) residual water is heated and melted by geothermal energy still remaining from the volcanism associated with the early history of Mars. The best we can hope for on the surface is microbial fossils in sedimentary rocks, not live microorganisms."

Regardless the position of these opposing camps, astronomer Stephen Maran, of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, understands the fascination.

"The possibility that life exists on Mars or once existed there remains tantalizing and highly controversial," Maran said.

Scientists Claim Evidence of Life in Outer Space

By Patricia Reaney

LONDON July 31, 2001 (Reuters) - A team of international researchers said on Tuesday they have found what could be the first proof of life beyond our planet -- clumps of extraterrestrial bacteria in the Earth's upper atmosphere.

Although the bugs from space are similar to bacteria on Earth, the scientists said the living cells found in samples of air from the edge of the planet's atmosphere are too far away to have come from Earth.

"There is now unambiguous evidence for the presence of clumps of living cells in air samples from as high 41 kilometers (25 miles), well above the local tropopause (16 kilometers up), above which no air from lower down would normally be transported," Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe, an astronomer at Cardiff University in Wales, said in a statement.

He presented the findings to a meeting of the International Society of Optical Engineering in San Diego, California.

"A prima facie case for a space incidence of bacteria on to the Earth may have been established," the statement said.

Wickramasinghe and scientists from India collected the space bugs from samples of stratospheric air using the Indian Space Research Organization's cryogenic sampler payload flown on balloons from a launch pad in Hyderabad, southern India.

Using a fluorescent dye the scientists detected living cells in the sample and estimated by the way their distribution varied with height that they are falling from space. As much as a third of a ton of the biological material is raining down over the entire planet daily, by their estimation.


Professor David Lloyd, a microbiologist at Cardiff University who examined the space bugs and co-authored the report, said they look like common terrestrial bacteria but there is no explanation of how they could have risen so high.

"There would have to be some unusual event which would take particles from the Earth to a height of 40 kilometers," Lloyd said in a telephone interview.

The bacteria could have hitched a ride on a rocket or satellite into space or they really could be from another planet.

"We have no evidence for one or the other as yet," said Lloyd. "The most likely possibility is that the bacteria have arrived from another planet. I'd like to think that, at any rate."

Lloyd has tried, so far unsuccessfully, to grow the bacteria in culture but said he hasn't found the right conditions yet.

"It's the first pointer that it is possible to get evidence that there is life on other planets," he added.

Wickramasinghe is convinced the space bugs provide strong support for the panspermia theory -- which suggests that life may have come from outer space in the form of germs or spores.

"We have argued for more than two decades that terrestrial life was brought down to Earth by comets and that cometary material containing micro-organisms must still reach us in large quantities," he said.

Military Chief Urges Space Weaponry

AP Military Writer

WASHINGTON August 1, 2001 (AP) — The United States' expanding commercial stake in space makes it likely the military will be called on to put both offensive and defensive weapons in orbit, the Air Force's top general said Wednesday.

Gen. Michael Ryan, the Air Force chief of staff, told reporters that as the United States becomes more dependent on space for communications, surveillance and navigation, the nation's need for space weaponry will increase.

"Eventually we're going to have to have the capability to take things out in orbit,'' he said. He said he favored developing anti-satellite weapons, which the Pentagon has worked on for years but never deployed.

Asked whether he saw a need for space-based weapons, as opposed to ground-based or airborne weapons capable of fighting in space, Ryan said, "I think eventually we may need to do that.''

He touted the space-based laser, which is in development as part of a U.S. defense against ballistic missiles.

Ryan said military and commercial satellites give the United States a large advantage over most nations.

"We have to in some way be able to protect those assets, at least defensively,'' he said. "And that leads you to the thought that if you're going to be up there trying to protect them defensively, where do you cross the line into offensive operations?

"Historically, wherever commerce has gone and our national interests have gone, so have gone our forces — on land, sea, in the air, we tended to exploit the realm we were dependent upon. I would suggest that sometime in the future here we're going to have to come to a policy decision on whether we're going to use space for both defensive and offensive capabilities.''

On other topics, Ryan said he was encouraged by the Bush administration's proposal to increase the 2002 defense budget by $18.4 billion, even though that was less than what the military had hoped for.

"It's better than a blow to the face with a dull ax,'' he said.

"We've been crying for help for a long time,'' he added, noting that the 2002 increase will raise the Air Force's budget by 9 percent "As far as I'm concerned, after living through what I lived through for the past four years, this is not bad.''

Ryan also said he favors closing more military bases. He said the Air Force has 10 percent to 20 percent more base capacity than it needs. He did not say how many bases he thought should be closed.

He said Congress in recent years has tied the military's hands by refusing to permit more base closures and consolidations.

"For us it is gridlock,'' he said. "If I want to move an airplane from one location to another to get efficient, doing that is nigh onto impossible'' as long as Congress refuses to allow more adjustments.

President Bush's nominee to replace Ryan as chief of staff when Ryan retires in October, Gen. John Jumper, said at his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday that he also sees a need for base closures.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called Jumper "extraordinarily well prepared'' for the role and promised to help him get quickly confirmed.

Makers of 'American Pie 2' Abandon Condom Promotion

LOS ANGELES July 31, 2001 (AP) - The studio behind the college sex comedy "American Pie 2" has abandoned part of a marketing agreement with a condom maker after the Motion Picture Association of America rejected the idea.

Universal Pictures and Ansell Healthcare Inc., maker of LifeStyles condoms, had agreed to a deal that includes a joint sweepstakes, placement of LifeStyles condoms in the film, and a TV commercial featuring the movie and the condoms, studio spokeswoman Terry Curtin said Monday.

Universal had agreed to make the commercial and Ansell had agreed to buy the advertising time, Curtin said.

But the MPAA rejected the commercial because it included condoms, Curtin said. Universal then canceled plans for the TV ad and notified the condom maker, Curtin said.

Studios who sign on with the MPAA must submit all marketing materials to the ratings board for approval. MPAA spokesman Rich Taylor said his organization has a policy of not allowing condoms in commercials meant for general audiences.

The rest of the Ansell marketing deal is still intact, Curtin said.

Red Bank, N.J.-based Ansell issued a scathing statement Monday accusing the studio of not wanting to be associated with a condom company.

Curtin said that wasn't the case and that her company had unsuccessfully tried to work out a compromise with the MPAA.

LifeStyles -

Titanosaur Discovered in Madagascar

AP Science Writer

Madagascar August 1, 2001 (AP) - Paleontologists have unearthed two exceedingly rare skulls of a titanosaur, finally putting a face on one of the world's most common, yet least understood dinosaurs.

The skulls' discoveries in Madagascar also fuel the debate over how dinosaurs spread around the world and when the Earth's land masses split into today's arrangement of continents.

One of the fossils — a juvenile — is 90 percent complete, including the skull, making it perhaps the best example of a titanosaur ever found. The second specimen is an adult skull only.

The fossils, described in the current issue of the journal Nature, are 65 million to 70 million years old. Most titanosaurs, like other plant-eating behemoths, lived up to 140 million years ago.

The relative youth of these specimens suggests that titanosaurs spanned several periods of dinosaur evolution until all dinosaurs went extinct at the end of the Cretaceous Period.

"These animals were extremely successful, the dominant plant-eaters in some parts of the world,'' said Scott Sampson, paleontology curator at the Utah Museum of Natural History. Sampson participated in the Madagascar dig, but did not contribute to the study.

"By figuring out relationships between titanosaurs around the world, we can understand the breakup of the continents,'' Sampson said. "That helps to make this a great discovery.''

The first titanosaur was found in 1842. Since then, their bones have been located on every continent except Antarctica.

Titanosaurs are not one species, but a group of at least 30 herbivores of different sizes. The largest is Argentinosaurus. Found in Patagonia, it was 90 feet long and weighed 90 tons, making it the largest creature to ever walk the Earth.

Titanosaurs belonged to a larger category of lightly armored dinosaurs known as sauropods — prototypical plant-eaters with long necks and tails, huge bodies and pile-driver legs. Most sauropods lived during the Jurassic Era, dying out more than 100 million years ago. But titanosaurs persisted.

Titanosaurs are poorly understood. That's because their heads were small and delicate, easily snapping off after death.

"We've never had a complete picture of a titanosaur before,'' said the study's lead author, Kristina Curry Rogers of the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul.

"This tells us what they looked like,'' she said, "from the light head hanging on the end of a long neck to the tip of its tail.''

The Madagascar specimens probably grew to 50 feet. Their scientific name is Rapetosaurus krausei. Rapetosaurus reflects the role of Rapeto, a mythical giant, in the folklore of Madagascar. Krausei honors paleontologist David Krause.

The titanosaur skulls have distinctive features.

The heads are less than 2 feet long with horse-like jaws. Cylindrical teeth resembling sharp pencils were used to strip leaves off branches.

The nostrils are located high on the snout. Large nerve channels suggest it smelled keenly.

High on the face sit two large gaps in the thin skull. They resemble huge eye sockets, but scientists believe they worked like sinuses.

The fragmented skulls were chipped from an ancient river channel in northwest Madagascar beginning in 1995. They were reassembled in the laboratory.

"You would have the base of the skull and run down the hall to get another piece that was discovered the previous year,'' Curry Rogers said. "It would snap right into place.''

Less certain is how the specimens will help explain the co-evolution of dinosaurs and continents.

About 200 million years ago, Earth's single landmass broke into two supercontinents.

Gondwana, the southern supercontinent, eventually split into Africa, Antarctica, South America, Australia, India and Madagascar.

Scientists thought that Gondwana split up more than 100 million years ago. Now some suspect it remained intact until the late Cretaceous, giving dinosaurs more time to disburse across lands now separated by oceans.

The Madagascar fossils may help to pinpoint when the split occurred.

"Evidence points to landmasses retaining connections millions of years longer than previously thought,'' Sampson said. "But when these animals lived, Madagascar was already isolated as an island.''

Dinosaurs Help Finance a Village School


Madagascar August 1, 2001 (NY Times) - When David W. Krause, a paleontologist in the anatomy department at the medical school of the State University at Stony Brook, goes to Madagascar, it is usually to hunt for dinosaur bones and other fossils.

But this summer — his sixth expedition to the island nation since 1993 — he and his research team also celebrated the opening of a two-room schoolhouse in the village of Berivotra, near where they dig. The school is named Sekoly Riambato, "Stony Brook School" in Malagasy.

The event was marked by the sacrifice of two cattle, known as zebu. Local dignitaries spoke: the provincial governor, the ministers for environment and security, the vice president of the Senate and a king of the Sakalava tribe, who shook the tail of a live bull while he spoke, asking for blessings from the ancestors. After that, the bull's neck was cut.

The school began operation in 1996 in a Lutheran church. Many local families who were ancestor worshipers would not allow their children to attend. The new brick-and-stucco school now has nearly 60 children, ranging in age from 5 to 17. Dr. Krause's group also dug the village's first well and toilets.

To pay for the school, Dr. Krause set up the Madagascar Ankizy Fund (ankizy means children in Malagasy), which has been aided by American schoolchildren and others. The fund  is also used to finance medical clinics and other schools in Madagascar.

Dr. Krause and his team also did some digging. They found new skull material from meat- and plant-eating dinosaurs and an "exquisitely preserved skull" of a large ancient crocodile.

The results of some previous expeditions will be disclosed this week in the journal Nature, due out tomorrow. Dr. Krause will announce the discovery of a fossil tooth from a marsupial mammal that he believes is the earliest found in the Southern Hemisphere. Until now, the earliest known remains of a marsupial in the hemisphere dated back to the Paleocene Epoch, 55 million to 65 million years ago; this find suggests that marsupials were in the Southern Hemisphere during the late Cretaceous period, 65 million to 100 million years ago. This fossil is approximately 70 million years old, he said.

In the same issue, Kristina Curry Rogers, a Stony Brook graduate student, and Catherine Forster, another Stony Brook paleontology professor, announce the discovery of a nearly complete fossil of a new genus and species of sauropod dinosaur, which they named for Dr. Krause: the Rapetosaurus krausei.


On the Net: 

Madagascar Ankizy Fund -

Nature -

Musicians Seek Harmony in Mideast
CHICAGO August 2, 2001 (AP) -- The orchestra played behind guarded doors. Photographs of the entire group, some of its members there without their government's permission, were strictly prohibited. So were bags and even umbrellas.

With violence escalating in the Middle East, security was tight as a group of young Palestinian and Jewish musicians gathered in the United States for a public concert, the end of three weeks aimed at building understanding through music.

"The first day we played together, you wouldn't believe it. It was like fragments that are messed up everywhere,'' said Claude Chalhoub, a violinist from Beirut, who was the 73-member orchestra's concertmaster.

The tension came from political differences, but also just from trying to unite a diverse group of young musicians -- ages 15 to 26, and from nations such as Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt -- many of whom had never played together.

"Now it's just a great piece,'' Chalhoub said before the orchestra performed Beethoven's "Eroica'' symphony in front of a nearly packed house at Chicago's Orchestra Hall on Tuesday, the night before a funeral for eight Palestinians killed in an Israeli helicopter raid.

The workshop was the third organized by Daniel Barenboim, music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, but the first in the United States. The others were held in Germany.

Barenboim, who is Jewish, already has a reputation for trying to use music to heal -- and to stir and challenge.

Just days before the young musicians arrived in Chicago, he angered some Jews by leading a German orchestra in a piece by Richard Wagner, Adolf Hitler's favorite composer, at Israel's most prestigious arts festival.

No one should be forced to listen to the music, Barenboim said, but "these associations were not created by Wagner, they were created by Hitler.''

Barenboim hopes the annual West-Eastern Divan Workshop -- named for German writer Goethe's imaginary dialogue with 14th century Persian poet Hafiz -- will evolve into a year-round institute.

He said this year's gathering was particularly poignant, given the increase in bloodshed in the Middle East. The tension was particularly raw during discussions scheduled in the evenings and led by professors from the University of Chicago and Columbia University, he said.

"You feel the pain that these kids feel and then you think, 'My God, it's better not to talk about it,''' Barenboim said. "And then the next day, it is as if the music washes that all away.''

Planning the latest workshop had its share of tension.

Without explanation, Egyptian officials canceled a plan to send 23 students from a conservatory in Cairo, though organizers believe it was a comment on recent Israeli attacks on Palestinians. Israel says the attacks are retaliation for Palestinian aggression.

The situation is so tense that some musicians attended the workshop in secret. Orchestra officials asked that they not be photographed or named for fear they would face jail time once they returned home.

The violence, which has left hundreds of Palestinians and Israelis dead since fighting erupted last September, is disheartening to Saleem Abboud-Ashkar, a Palestinian Israeli who attended the workshop.

"Sometimes I think I am optimistic only because there is no other option,'' the 24-year-old pianist said. "Optimism becomes only a way of survival.''

Abboud-Ashkar led off Tuesday night's concert, performing Mozart's "Concerto for Three Pianos'' with Shai Wosner, a 25-year-old Jewish pianist from Israel, and Barenboim.

Abboud-Ashkar and Wosner played side-by-side pianos. Rather than politics -- or symbolism -- the pianists said the moment was about Mozart's composition.

"How can you say one sound belongs to one and the other sound belongs to the other?'' he asked. "It's about music from, in this case, 18th century Europe -- not an Israeli and a Palestinian.''

Audience members, however, took home more than memories of the music.

"It gives hope for the future that people can see beyond a gun,'' said Jacie Hachem, a 28-year-old Chicagoan and native of Lebanon who attended the concert. "It helps us see that there are other ways to solve problems.''

On the Net: 

Your Own Face on a Postage Stamp
TOKYO August 1, 2001 (Reuters) - Japanese people, who never miss a chance to be photographed, were lining up on Wednesday to get their picture on a postage stamp.

Vanity stamps that feature personal photographs went on sale for the first time in Japan as part of an international postage stamp exhibition.

The customer's photo is taken with a digital camera and then printed on stamp sheets, a process that takes about five minutes.

Sold in a sheet of 10 stamps for $8.80, little more than the cost of lunch in Tokyo, each stamp features a different scene from a traditional ukiyo-e Japanese print along with the photo.

The stamps can be used normally to mail a letter, and postal officials hope they will help promote interest in letter-writing in the Internet age.

"Certainly e-mail is a useful method of communication, but letters are fun in a different way," said Hatsumi Shimizu, an official in the Posts Ministry. "We want to show young people that letters can be fun too."

While similar stamp sheets debuted in Australia in 1999 and are now sold in some 12 nations and territories, Japan's fondness for commemorative photos, and the photo stickers known as "Print Club," is likely to make them especially popular here.

Indeed, officials had prepared 1,000 sheets but they were sold out in less than 30 minutes.

"We left home at four in the morning and got here at six," said Misao Itaya, who posed with his young children for the photo. "I want to use this when I send pictures of the kids to my relatives."

Although the stamps are currently only available as a special service during the exhibition, which began on Wednesday and runs for a week, postal officials said they may start selling them on a regular basis in the future.
Ancient Palace of The Golden Fleece

DIMINI Greece July 27, 2001 (AP) — Since ancient times, Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece was told as a purely mythical epic. Excavations may uncover some truth behind the tale. Archaeologists digging in the foothills of Mount Pelion in central Greece have uncovered a Mycenaean city and palace complex they believe may have provided the inspiration for one of the most enduring Greek fables: the adventures of Jason and his Argonauts.

The palace, archaeologists say, could be part of ancient Iolkos, where myth says King Pelias promised Jason his rightful kingdom if he could return with the fleece. The ruins fit the mythical description and historical period of Iolkos: a Mycenaean center near Mount Pelion that reached its glory in the Late Bronze Age, or about 1200 B.C.

“Since we know the whole myth refers to a Mycenaean king who lived in this area ... it is natural that our thinking goes there,” said Vasso Adrimi, who has directed the excavation since it started in 1975. She announced her findings in May at a Greek archaeological conference.

Adrimi is quick to point out that there is no solid evidence linking the ruins with Jason “and we may never have it.”

But there are tantalizing hints. The finds could bolster theories that the legend of Jason and his Argonauts came from a composite picture of common Mycenaean traders.


The excavations in Dimini, about 105 miles northwest of Athens, show evidence it was a major trading center for the Aegean and Black Sea regions. The gold used for jewelry, for example, was likely brought to Greece by seafaring traders.

The myth — retold in countless books and films and used as the foundation for Euripides’ drama “The Medea” — tells of Jason leaving on his ship, the Argos, to search for the Golden Fleece around ancient Colchis, located on the Black Sea in modern-day Georgia.

Greeks later set up trading centers in Colchis to trade for gold, precious metals and gems.

“Maybe this myth of the Argonaut campaign ... is a memory of these quests to bring back raw materials, to bring back metals,” said Adrimi.


Even the obviously mythical Golden Fleece — the woolly hide from a magical ram — could have some grounding in reality, she added.

Some scholars have interpreted it as either a text on how to acquire gold or a description about how natives of the Colchis region used sheepskins placed in streams to trap gold dust.

Other experts are more skeptical about drawing sweeping theories from the finds unearthed so far in Dimini.

“Unless you find a piece of paper, scrap or something which says ‘Jason lived here,’ we won’t know that for sure. But, at any rate, it helps flesh out the myth,” said Peter Ian Kuniholm, an expert at tree-ring dating at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

Kuniholm plans to visit the site this summer to collect pieces of charcoal preserved in the soil after one part of the palace was devastated by fire. The analysis could give a clearer picture of when the area thrived.

Adrimi, meanwhile, plans to expand the digs to ancient burial sites in hopes of strengthening the connections between the tale of Jason and the realities of the time.

“It is impossible to not correlate the two in our minds,” Adrimi said.

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